Adverse summer grass growing or harvesting conditions or excessively long, cold winter weather can make it difficult to find or afford horse hay. These problems might tempt horse owners to feed their horses an all-concentrate diet. However, horse owners should remember a diet without roughage can be detrimental to the horse. A constant fiber source is needed to maintain the “good” bacteria in the horse’s hindgut which break down plant fibers to provide energy for the horse.

The bulk provided by fiber keeps the horse’s digestive tract functioning smoothly, decreasing incidence of colic. Horses with adequate fiber exhibit less behavioral problems, such as wood chewing and stall walking, than horses without enough fiber in the diet. The minimum daily amount of long roughage (hay or pasture) needed by the horse is 1 pound of roughage per one hundred pounds of body weight.

There are feeds other than hay or pasture that can provide roughage for the horse. These feeds are not always more cost-effective than hays, but they usually can be purchased when hay is not readily available. Although many of these feeds can substitute for hay, it is more beneficial to maintain the minimum roughage requirement with hay or pasture and use these feeds to boost the amount of roughage in the horse’s diet.

Complete feeds are pelleted feeds that have ground hay (usually alfalfa) combined in the pellet. They increase the fiber content of the diet but do not provide the bulk necessary to keep the horse’s digestive tract functioning smoothly.

Alfalfa pellets are similar to complete feeds. They provide fiber but do not provide the needed bulk. However, alfalfa cubes are long fiber hay pressed into cubes. Cubes will give the horse needed bulk in its intestines. There have been infrequent reports of horses choking on the large cubes, but there is probably no danger for the normal horse.

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